Xin nian kaui le

Year of the dragon. Graphic by Vicente Capala.

Xin nian kuai le, or  Happy New Year in Chinese.

For much of the world, the celebration of New Year’s occurs only one day: Jan. 1. However, the Chinese culture celebrates the coming of a new year with 15 days of festivities, celebrations, and traditional rituals.

With each year comes a new bought of celebration, based on a theme of an ancient animal. Last year was represented by tù, the Rabbit. This year marks the year of the long, the Dragon, which is a positive symbol in the Chinese culture, meant to bring a good prosperous year.

“Ancient Chinese people called themselves the descendants of Dragon, and a lot of architectures are cared with dragon,” said Annie Ping Zeng, director of the Confucius Institute at UAA. “This was because in the past, people believed that the dragon controlled water and if they’d pray, the dragon would take care of them and give them enough water for a rich crop.”

Imagine parades with long streaming ornate dragons, confetti of red and gold flowing from every direction, dozens of drums beating in unison. Fireworks of greens and yellows, reflecting in the metal of bells being carried in the streets, followed by a stream of lit candles. These all represent the annual events occurring around China every year in celebration.

This is just one major event in the 15 days of celebration. Many of the other days include spending time with family and friends to celebrate life and death.

Leon Cheng has lived in Alaska all his life, but his family still celebrates the new year as they would if they were in China.

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“Being far away from it all is hard, but my family and a group of other families come together to pay our respects in every way we can,” said Cheng. “We cook food, light candles, pray, remembering our elders and those who have come before us.”

The Chinese Alaska Association, created in the mid 1970’s, helps Chinese families living in Alaska maintain a social connection with their heritage. They set up events and host celebrations to bring the culture not only to those far from home, but for those who are interested in experiencing them as well.

“I am not Chinese, but I am really interested in their culture,” said student Allyson Peterson. “Having these events open to students of all nationalities is really exciting.”

Even though the month has come to an end, there is still one more festivity that the Chinese Alaska Association with UAA is hosting in honor of the Year of the Dragon: the Chinese Lantern Festival. This marks the 15th and final day of New Year’s celebration.

“For the Lantern Festival, people make lanterns with red-colored paper to suggest prosperous like fires,” said Zeng. “Lanterns also mean family reunion and people also eat ‘Tang Yuan’ (a kind of sticky rice dumpling wrapped with sweet fillings inside). For this year, Beijing Jiaotong University sent out a performance troupe to give performances in some American cities; I think this is a good opportunity for our students to get to know a bit about the Chinese culture.”

Through all of these events, the Chinese culture ushers in another new and prosperous year.